The UN & the New Multipolar World: A French Perspective
Remarks by François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations to the Foreign Policy Association Hassib Sabbagh Distinguished Lecture on Diplomacy - 8 June 2017
It’s a great honor to be here with you tonight and to address such a distinguished audience.
I’d like to start by expressing my warmest thanks to the Foreign Policy Association and its President & CEO Noel Lateef for inviting me and giving me this wonderful opportunity. Noel and I have known each other for years, we are actually long-time friends and I want to commend you, Noel, for your commitment to the Foreign Policy Association, which under your leadership has become one of America’s leading and most respected organizations dedicated to foreign policy.
I’d like to extend a very special word of thanks to Sana Sabbagh, whose presence means so much to me. Chère Sana, you are a source of admiration and inspiration to me and it’s a particular privilege to speak under the auspices of your father this evening. Hassib Sabbagh was an extraordinary man in every respect, who devoted his entire life to the service of peace and philanthropy. Tonight I want to pay tribute to him and to you, Sana, for following in his footsteps with such grace and elegance and that unique je ne sais quoi that is so French, I believe.
Speaking of France, you know the story about my country. A long time ago, God created France. It was a perfect country, harmonious and well balanced, with the right mix of mountains and beaches and a mild climate. Then God realized it was unfair to other countries that were not as lucky. And so for the sake of fairness, he created the French… And to be absolutely sure, he created the Parisians…
On a more serious note, my main message here this evening is that now more than ever, we collectively need the UN, a more efficient and reformed UN, as the multipolar world is taking shape before our eyes.
Indeed, in our view, the world is increasingly unpredictable and hard to govern for at least two reasons:
The first is what I would call the de-polarization of the international order: we went from a bipolar world, in the aftermath of World War II, to a unipolar moment during the 90s, to an increasingly multipolar world. And the key challenge of our generation is for this multipolar order to be based on partnerships, rather than rivalries. And to successfully transition toward an organized and peaceful multipolar world, we need a more effective multilateral system.
That’s why the UN has never been as vital as it is today, and why its reform is so critically important. For that to happen, we must allow major emerging nations to have a larger role in global governance. This is one of today’s key challenges. It’s why France is calling for the enlargement of the UN Security Council to include countries such as India, Brazil and certain African nations, as well as Japan and Germany, as permanent members of the Security Council. Let me remind you that the five permanent members of the Council today are the US, France, Russia, China and the UK.
Along with de-polarization, the second trend that is making the world increasingly hard to govern – and thus making the UN even more important – is what we can call the dispersion of power. The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia established nation-states as the principal if not the sole actors in international relations. Well, we are steadily entering a post-Westphalian world in which non-State actors are playing a growing role. This can be for the better, when you think of the larger role played by local communities – and especially major metropolitan areas - NGOs, the business world and Foundations – we all have in mind the influence of the Gates Foundation on health issues, for instance.
But it can also be for the worse, if you think of the development across the globe of armed groups, organized crime, drug networks and terrorist groups – all groups that are more and more intertwined with each other and prospering in failed states. That’s why the fight against terrorism is today inseparable from the fight against organized crime and drug-trafficking. In this post-Westphalian world, States – but also the UN – must be much more creative and ally themselves with non-State organizations through a proliferation of public-private partnerships, joint projects with foundations and NGOs, and innovative financing.
I believe the best illustration of this is what we are doing on climate change to implement the Paris agreement. I’ll come back to it in a minute.
So the emergence of a multipolar world and the proliferation of non-state actors make the role of the UN more important than ever. But we need to reform the UN in order to make it more efficient, more transparent and more flexible. This is a key priority of the new UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, whom we fully support. But we are not there yet.
And in the meantime, as the US tends to retreat from world affairs and the emerging powers are still reluctant to assume their responsibilities, you have what I would call a lack of power, a void – or at least the perception of it – on the world stage. And in this transition period it should come as no surprise that the world is confronted with an unprecedented accumulation of crises.
The fight against jihadist terrorism is a good illustration of what I just said and a major challenge of our time. The UN is playing a growing role in helping us all improve our cooperation in this field and tackle this threat. Actually, this very afternoon we had a debate at the UN Security Council on the fight against Daesh (ISIS), during which I offered some concrete proposals.
The UN is more and more mobilized in the fight against terrorism and Daesh in particular. Let me give you three examples:
First, the UN is very committed to helping us reduce the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to Syria, Iraq and Libya, with some real success. Now, a growing challenge is to prevent these foreign fighters from returning to our countries. This is one of France’s key priorities as we speak, as Daesh is retreating on all fronts – which is of course a very good thing.
Second, the UN is very active and more and more efficient in drying up Daesh’s and Al-Qaida’s sources of funding, through the constant refining and strengthening of sanctions, notably financial sanctions against Daesh and Al-Qaida and the like. This fight against the financing of terrorism is key to our common success, and the UN is at the forefront of this fight.
Third, the UN is instrumental in fighting terrorist propaganda, especially online – which is truly the “new frontier” in counterterrorism. In doing so the UN and key players are establishing a counter-narrative that will help to more effectively combat and prevent the phenomena of radicalization, which provide the fertile ground on which the terrorist organizations thrive.
France has long been one of the driving forces of these efforts. This is even more the case after the terrible November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris that we all remember. At France’s initiative and at record speed, only one week after the attacks, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2249, a landmark resolution that underscores the unprecedented nature of the threat posed by Daesh and calls on the international community to join efforts and “take all necessary measures” against it (and in the UN the phrase “all necessary measures” is the code name for authorizing the use of force).
This is a strong personal memory for me as I negotiated the last paragraphs of this resolution directly with then Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone.
Based on this in-many-respects historic resolution against ISIS, France is a key partner in the US-led coalition against Daesh. France is actually the second-largest military contributor, after the US, to strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Let’s not forget that Africa is another major front in the fight against terrorism – against Al-Qaida and Boko Haram in particular. France has taken the lead in this fight, particularly in the Sahel region in the heart of Africa.
That was the purpose of our military intervention in Mali in 2003, when the country was at risk – like Afghanistan previously – of falling into the hands of radical Islamists. In Mali, France had to fight one of the best-trained, best-equipped and best-funded Al-Qaida branches in the world, thanks to years of drug-trafficking, human trafficking and weapons smuggling, as well as the stockpiles of weapons that came out of the Libyan chaos. These were therefore fierce battles for France – which were not really reported as such by the American press.
Once Mali had been liberated from Al-Qaida, we secured the support of an African force which then became a UN peacekeeping force, MINUSMA, under whose auspices elections could be held and a peace agreement concluded. We also hosted donor conferences to promote the country’s economic development. Our work isn’t over, of course, and serious problems remain in Mali, but the French-led intervention in that country, with much appreciated African, American and European support, led to a real success against terrorism and promoted an encouraging political process in this country. This is, I believe, a good illustration of what the UN can do, despite a very difficult context.
France has more broadly deployed Operation Barkhane, through which 4,000 French troops with powerful intervention and mobility capabilities are combating radical Islamist movements in the five countries that make up the Sahel. This operation covers a huge area, bigger than the whole of Europe from Lisbon to Moscow. In terms of its geographic scope, this is the largest military operation that France has undertaken since the Second World War – and it says a lot about France’s commitment at the forefront of international counterterrorism efforts.
And here too the UN has a key role to play. France has prepared a draft SC resolution to endorse and support an African military force, the “G5 force”, composed of the five countries of the Sahel region (Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad). This African force, already supported by the African Union, would be our best tool in the longer run to combat terrorism in the region. And even as we speak, we are working very hard to convince our partners in the Security Council to support this resolution that we will bring to a vote shortly.
So the UN is playing a key role to confront the terrorist threat. And I didn’t even mention the very dedicated UN staff and close to 120,000 peacekeepers who are preventing conflicts and preserving peace across the globe, saving literally hundreds of lives every single day. Now what about sustainable development and climate change?
Here, too, there is a quiet revolution going on at the UN. In September 2015, the heads of state and government of the world together adopted what we call the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time in history, all countries, rich and poor, endorsed the same sustainable development agenda.
The 17 SDGs are the worldwide roadmap in terms of sustainable development, from education to health, from the fight against poverty to promoting good governance, from the preservation of our oceans to the combat against climate change.
Let me say a few words about climate change, which we consider a potentially existential threat to human kind. The landmark Paris climate change agreement was adopted in December 2015, under the French presidency of COP21. That was, so to speak, the first miracle: bringing together 195 countries with different views and interests and leading them all to sign the same agreement.
I believe the French diplomacy plays a useful role in this respect – and you know the long tradition of French modesty… The second “miracle” is that less than a year after its adoption, the Paris Accord has already come into effect, having received the required number of ratifications. This is unprecedented: never before has an international and universal agreement come into effect that quickly. This says a lot about the truly unique momentum surrounding the Paris Accord.
Now we are hoping for a third “miracle” to occur, with the actual implementation of the Paris agreement in order to limit the global warming initiated by greenhouse gas emissions to well below the 2 ° Celsius threshold. Here we have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the United States has decided to withdraw from the agreement. We deeply regret this decision and I personally had the opportunity to pass that message on to President Trump (…).
The good news is that the rest of the world, including emerging countries like China and India, has decided to stay firmly committed to the Accord and its implementation. And the other good news is that the business world worldwide, and in the United States in particular, has embraced the Paris Accord, which offers a stable framework and a predictable path toward a low-carbon economy.
The same holds true in the financial world, with the development of green and sustainable finance, of which France is truly at the forefront, with the first large-scale emission of green bonds in particular. On a more personal note, I much appreciated the meetings I organized over the past year at the French UN Mission with several long-term investors, pension funds, banks and State Comptrollers on how best to implement the Paris agreement. This commitment to a low-carbon economy is also striking within the industrial world across the board, and centered on the energy transition. One reason for this is that the costs of renewable energies are coming down much faster than expected.
To give you just one striking example, solar power costs have fallen about 70% over the last six years. In addition, many local governments, states and cities in this country are deeply committed to implementing the Paris Accord. So I don’t say it will be easy but I believe we will collectively make it.
Here too the UN is playing a major role. Not only was the Paris Accord concluded under UN auspices, and to a large extent thanks to UN efforts, but the UN is instrumental in mobilizing States as well as non-state actors to implement the Paris Agreement. Here the public-private partnerships that the UN is promoting, through organizations such as Global Compact, are leading the way.
This is a good illustration of the fact that the UN is adapting to the post-Westphalian world I was referring to earlier.
Let me conclude on this positive note. In today’s testing times, we need the UN more than ever. And it is up to us all to make it more efficient and more flexible. For that we need an America that remains committed to the UN and to world affairs more broadly. A lasting American withdrawal from world affairs could give rise to the return of old spheres of influence, whose dire consequences we are already familiar with throughout our history.
And in today’s challenging times, let’s never forget that our shared values, the humanist values that are at the core of the UN Charter, are more than ever our best guide, I would even say our best moral compass, for confronting together the challenges we face.